Hi Captain Awkward,
I find myself in a very awkward but relatively low-stakes situation with a classmate. There is a woman in my cohort at college who has this weird habit of rescheduling other students’ social events (not just mine, but mostly mine). For example, someone invites the group by email out to go hiking, and she’ll respond saying let’s all go bowling instead. Once I invited everyone to a dinner party I was hosting at my home, and she tried to change the event to be a restaurant outing at a different time!
I understand that in the course of group planning, sometimes people negotiate things like whether to meet at 8 or 9, or whether to get Mexican or Italian, but her behavior is going way beyond that. And frankly, sometimes I don’t really care if everyone can make it – I just want to go see this awesome concert and it’d be even more awesome if others wanted to join.
There’s obviously a lot of GSF5 going on here. How can I talk to her about this without making it seem like I don’t care about her presence? I do care, and I love spending time with her, but I can’t accommodate her on every social outing. Also/alternatively, what is a polite way to indicate to the group, after she inevitably makes some “helpful” suggestions, that my invitation is not up for negotiation?
Just Send Me Your Regrets
Dear Just Send Me,
As you say, I think there is room for negotiation sometimes, like, “Aw, I’d love to, but I’m allergic to peanuts, can we do Not Thai?” “My ex works there, so, could we go to a different bar?” In those negotiations there also has to be room for “My heart is set on trying this new Thai place this week, but join us (& pick the place) next time?” or “Oof, sorry it’s Ex-Bar, my friend’s band is playing there and I promised her I’d go. Want to get a quick drink at Not-Ex-Bar with us before the show?” Sometimes the right thing to do is to just decline the invitation and then make your own invitation for another time. Invitations are not commands, nor are they reasons to wonder if your friends like peanut oil more than they like you. You gotta trust in reciprocity. Your friend has not learned this yet, but hopefully she can. College is a great time to figure this out!
I’m assuming these are electronic invitations of some sort (emails or Evites or FB invites or group texts), yes?
There’s a public way and a private way to fix this.
Public way: Next time you’re like “Free concert in the park Saturday – I’m going to be there at 7pm with a blanket, bring snacks if you want to join” and she says “No, let’s go bowling instead!” you could reply to the group and say, “Bowling sounds fun, enjoy! I’m 100% planning on going to the concert. Can I get a head count for who’s joining me there?”
Politely decline her alternate invitation and repeat your own. You’re not being mean, you are being clear and direct.
Private way: Wait until she does her thing to an invitation of yours and then maybe call her or talk to her in person or text *just her* (remembering what we said yesterday about text/email fights) and say, “Did you mean to hijack my dinner party invitation to ask everyone to come to a restaurant during the exact same window instead?”
“If you don’t want to come to dinner, or can’t – just let me know, it’s okay! We’ll hang out another time. Instead looks like you got my invitation and then immediately set up a competing event, which makes it seem like not only did you not want to come over but you didn’t want anyone in our friend group to come over. It really annoyed me/hurt my feelings.”
Traps to avoid:
- “You ALWAYS do this, tho!” She’s been doing this for a while, but she’s not been aware that it’s a problem before right now and doesn’t have the same head start on being annoyed that you do, so definitely keep at least the first conversation you have focused on the one recent specific incident.
- “You do this to everyone/everyone is annoyed at you for doing this!” People sometimes mistakenly think that invoking “the whole group” will make their case stronger, when really it just moves the conversation to “Wait, ‘everyone’ is annoyed with me and nobody said?” “What, exactly, did ‘everyone’ say?” Don’t elect yourself spokesperson, just talk about your own issues with the behavior. Talking about ‘everyone’ will really hurts her feelings and get nothing done that you want accomplished.
- “I think you might just be afraid of being left out…” Don’t suggest or off her reasons as to why she might be doing this or explain her feelings or reasons to her. Tell her how the behavior affects you, and let her do the rest.
Bonus Nice Thing If You Really Really Like This Friend:
I know I just said don’t go into Reasons she’s doing this, but my read is that she really wants to be the Initiator of Fun Events but by the time she gets her idea together it’s too late and one of the serial planners in the group has already planned something for that time window. You are not obligated to do this in any way – managing all of her feelings is not your job, taking care of your own feelings is your job – but if you end up having a talk with her, and you really like her and want to heal everything with her, plan something jointly with her. Consult her privately first, nail down all the details, and then jointly send (or have her send) the invite to everyone and let her feel the glow of being the host. If this is what she’s really hungry for deep down, it will be a lovely thing if you can feed her.